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When it's OK to lie in a relationship

Couple Discussing

Honesty may not be the best policy when it comes to relationships. 

Couples lie to each other an average of three times a week, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to a recent study soon to be published in the journal Communication Quarterly.

Researchers looked at how often people expressed affection toward their partners even when they weren’t genuinely feeling it—otherwise known as deceptive affection. This could be anything from complimenting your guy’s haircut when you actually think it’s heinous to kissing him goodbye even when you’re really pissed.

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For the study, 57 participants (one person per couple) between the ages of 18-27 kept a week-long diary. 

“First we trained them on what is deceptive affection. Every time this occurred with their romantic partner they were asked to write down what they were actually feeling, what they expressed to their partner, and why,” says lead study author Sean Horan, assistant professor in the College of Communication at DePaul University. 

The research showed that participants were faking their feelings an average of three times per week, according to Horan and study co-author Melanie Booth-Butterfield of West Virginia University.

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So how bad is all this lying? Surprisingly, it’s not so horrible for your bond. “Although it’s very common, the motives behind it aren’t bad,” says Horan. “The most dominant motives were to avoid conflict, negative feelings, and hurting your partner.” 

For the most part, deception was used to help maintain the relationships. And according to researchers, these little white lies are pretty harmless. “We don’t always want to know the truth all the time,” says Horan.

That said, if your motives include covering up something major—like that you’re over the relationship or that you’ve been cheating—you’re probably doing more harm than good. 

“In any relationship, if you’re primarily relying on deception then problems will likely result,” says Horan.

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